Things to Consider When Choosing and Working With Community Partners

Written by Veronica House

Before the Course Begins:
Is the site doing work that will lend itself to a connection with your course?
Will the students' work at the site lend itself to reflection on the connection with course work?
Will students be doing course work that is tied to the organization's mission?
***Sometimes we have to be willing to change assignments or even whole parts of a course because our desires are not realistic. Sometimes we have to determine that we cannot work with a particular partner because their needs are too different from our own.

Once you have compiled your list of possible agencies with whom your students may work, contact the agency to explain your course objectives, to find out all of their orientation and work requirements, and to make sure that what they need and expect is appropriate for your course. The agency representative may not have heard of service-learning or may not understand what it really entails. Communicate this to them up front so that there is a guarantee of educationally meaningful work for your student to do. Explain the semester timeline, course goals, and determine the capacity in which your student can help them.

Determine before the course begins how you will evaluate your students' work and experience. How will the site work relate to the course grade? Put this in your policy statement or syllabus. What will you do if a student meets the learning objectives but not the site objectives or if he does well in the academic part of the course but does not complete his service hours? (See "Course Planning" for ways to avoid this).

The ultimate question is what is the desired impact on us as faculty, the students, the university, and the community, and how can we communicate this effectively with the community partner to create a mutually beneficial relationship?

In the First Few Weeks of Class:
Send another email or letter to the agency stating that you have a student who has chosen to work with them. Give your contact information again. Some instructors choose to send a formal work contract that the agency representative, student, and instructor sign.
You can monitor the student's work once more or several times throughout the semester with an email or a phone call to the agency. You could send a mid-semester progress report to check student attitude, initiative, dependability, and respect.

At the End of the Semester:
Contact agency representatives to verify students' hours and the quality of their work.
Some instructors have their students write thank you letters.

This is the time to take stock of what happened and assess with community partners and students:
What do you need to change/add?
How can you better communicate with partners and students?
Which partners worked well/did not work?

Remember that these relationships are not static. They require frequent attention due to change of personnel, resources, or clients. We must be willing to be flexible and adaptable. Partnerships are in constant flux; creating solid ones is an ongoing process.

From the Community-Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH) "Principles of Good Community-Campus Partnerships":
• Partnerships form to serve a specific purpose and may take on new goals over time.
• Partners have agreed upon mission, values, goals, measurable outcomes and accountability for the partnership.
• The relationship between partners is characterized by mutual trust, respect, genuineness, and commitment.
• The partnership builds upon identified strengths and assets, but also works to address needs and increase capacity of all partners.
• The partnership balances power among partners and enables resources among partners to be shared.
• Partners make clear and open communication an ongoing priority by striving to understand each other's needs and self-interests, and developing a common language.
• Principles and processes for the partnership are established with the input and agreement of all partners, especially for decision-making and conflict resolution.
• There is feedback among all stakeholders in the partnership, with the goal of continuously improving the partnership and its outcomes.
• Partners share the benefits of the partnership's accomplishments.
• Partnerships can dissolve and need to plan a process for closure.

The following ideas come from Bob Bringle and Patti Clayton's presentation, "Beyond Reciprocity: Investigating Transactional vs. Transformative Dimensions of Service-Learning Partnerships," from the International Research Conference on Service-Learning and Community Engagement, October 2008.
Bringle and Clayton draw from Barbara Jacoby's Building Partnerships for Service-Learning (2003), which details the distinction between "transactional and transformative relationships." Bringle and Clayton have created a "Partnership Scale" that moves from placement to partnership. Bringle has applied the concept of "exchange theory" from his expertise in relationship psychology to community-campus partnerships. Both sides must have communication, trust, commitment, and respect to be sustainable.
Transactional: designed to complete a task; each party has something the other finds useful; no enduring purpose; project-based.
Transformative: deeper more sustained commitment; individuals question and reflect deeply with an expectation for growth; issue-based.

These concepts parallel those of placement versus partnership. It is important to note that there is nothing wrong with placements as long as the work you want students to do is negotiated with the partner and mutually agreed upon. It is unrealistic to assume that all work in the community can (or should) be a partnership. You can determine what your ideal partnership looks like and what the community partner's ideal partnership looks like. As partners, you can agree to how and when you will discuss. Will you visit the community site? Will a representative from the site visit your class? Will you have regular meetings, emails, or another form of evaluation? How will you assess together at the end of the course?

Community Placement and Partnership Options

Access Counseling
Boulder Valley Women's Health Center
Colorado Recovery
CU Timmy Foundation
GLBT Resource Center
Moving to End Sexual Assault
Peers Building Justice
Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence
Wardenburg Health Center
Women's Resource Center

Boulder Parks and Recreation
Colorado Horse Rescue
CU Environmental Center
Global Response
Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Growing Gardens
Humane Society of Boulder Valley
Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado
Wildlands Restoration Volunteers

Breakthrough Arts Program

Casey Middle School
Clemintine Art Studio
CU Timmy Foundation
Family Learning Center
I Have a Dream Foundation
Peers Building Justice
Project Yes (arts)
There With Care
SOS Outreach (skiing and snowboarding)
University Hill Elementary
Whittier International Elementary School
YMCA of Boulder Valley
YWCA of Boulder County

Poverty/Family Assistance/Immigration
Africa Bags
Attention Homes
Bead for Life
Boulder Housing Partners
Boulder Shelter for the Homeless
Carriage House
Emergency Family Assistance Association
Growing Gardens
Parenting Place
There With Care

Intellectual and Physical Disabilities
Association for Community Living
Best Buddies
Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center
EXPAND Sports (paralymics and special olympics)
Rocky Mountain Riding Therapy
Thistle Community Housing

New Era Colorado
Prison Dharma Network
Students for Peace and Justice
Viva Peace

RSVP of Boulder County
Wynwood at Ridge Point Assisted Living